Early Times in Kosciusko

Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

Let me but live my life from year to year,
With forward face and unreluctant soul,
Not hastening to, nor turning from, the goal;
Not mourning for the things that disappear
In the dim past, nor holding back in fear
From what the future veils; but with a whole
And happy heart that pays its toll
To youth and age, and travels on with cheer.

So let the way wind up the hill or down,
Though rough or smooth, the journey will be joy;
Still seeking what I sought when but a boy,
New friendships, high adventure, and a crown;
I shall grow old, but never lose life's zest,
Because the road's last turn will be the best.
---- Harry VanDyke

As has already been stated in this series of articles several times, these publications have brought to the writer many letters from people formerly residents of this county, or this part of the country. Many of them have been of an interesting nature, but all of them have been of an interesting nature, but all of them too brief to glean much from these missives, the authors generally only writing to express their delight in perusing the old-time sketches, and to refer to the manner in which the perusal of these articles carries them back to their childhood's home and earlier days; the reality of the picture--many of them assert--being so vivid that they are once more boy or girl with basket or dinner-pail, trudging very often miles to school! To such people as these who have emigrated to the West from this county, or from this part of the State, their perusal comes as a message from the old home, and is always keenly, though it may be--owing to long absence--pathetically enjoyed.

Only a few days since I received a letter form Mrs. Julian, of Greensport, N.Y., well-known to many people here in Warsaw, and in other parts of the county. For several years past she has been living with her daughter in the town of Greensport, a small port not far from New York. Under the name of her first husband--a man by the name of Ketcham--she resided along with her husband, at or quite near Syracuse; being very early settlers--as early as 1837--in that section of the country. In those early days--Mr. Ketcham, being a preacher, and the emoluments of his position being exceedingly meager, there being few to pay, even with their willingness to do so--Mrs. Julian, in the desire to aid in winning a living, plaited and put together the straw-hat of early times and sold them to the merchants of the first settlement period at Milford, and thus aided to eke out a meager existence from year to year. As a boy I very well remember her first husband, although his given name has passed out of my memory. I also very well remember Mr. Julian, her second husband, who was the first man in this county to manufacture crockery-ware, which he did a short distance north of town, for a few years.

Another former Kosciusko county girl, who left here soon after her marriage to her young husband writes us in praise of the sketches she has been reading without missing a number; and a gentleman in writing us from Nebraska alludes to the apology the writer made several years ago about skipping about from one subject to another without any sort of notice or preface, declares, that "this was one great point he liked in the sketches--there was generally a surprise in store for the reader," he says. If this is so , the last sketch I have written--the one published in the number preceding this, ought to please him, for in it I jumped all the way from the beautiful Empress Josephine, of France, to a poll-eviled horse here in Kosciusko county! For a wide range and a difference of the subject under discussion surely that ought to suit the Nebraska friend and reader.

Carrying on this subject a little further, I have thought best to publish the following letter received from W. M. Morris, of Syracuse, in full, as it is always difficult to curtail a note on such a subject. Mr. Morris is an old settler of the northeast part of the county and he writes us under date of June 25 as follows:
"General Reub Williams--In one of your sketches of 'Early Times in Kosciusko County,' you spoke about pothooks--a kitchen implement of years ago--that have now about disappeared, and wherever they exist it is only as relics of olden times. I have two pairs of them, as well as an old dasher churn, of which you also spoke. It was made of red cedar taken from the borders of 'Nine-mile Lake,' in this county, in 1838, by my father and uncle, who took enough of the timber back to Shelby county, Ohio, and had a churn made of it. The churn is even yet in good condition and shape. I also have a dinner-pot, brought all the way from Augusta county, Va., in 1829. My grandmother owned it while she kept house, and then it fell to my own mother, and now I still have it in my possession. I county its age as 139 years that I know of myself, and it evidently runs farther back in age than even that. I have, too, a skillet and lid, in which the corn-pone of early times was baked when I was a boy at home. I also have grand-mother's wool-cards, which she used when she was a young girl, and also her iron kettle, both of these articles being over a hundred years old. The pot-hooks were never used--that is, my pair was not--in a 'knock-down,' to which you jestingly alluded in one of your very readable articles. I remember of hearing the talk of the heavy frost you spoke of as having occurred in that part of Ohio in which your people lived. It occurred on June 8, 1839, and in your reference to the fact that the people had to put up wholly with cornbread and buckwheat cakes, you stated a fact that will be well remembered by every one who lived in the section of the country visited by that cold snap, if they are nearly seventy years of age."

Mr. Morris sends us a piece of poetry, published in the Cincinnati Gazette during the Civil War days, and he says: "It is getting old--like an old veteran--old and worn. It was clipped from the Gazette in the dark days of 1861-65, when I was a boy only ten years old, and while you were where shot and shell flew thick and fast. I had a brother, who no doubt, fought on some of the fields with you. He was at Pittsburg Landing, Corinth, Iuka, etc., but in the end he had to suffer and die on Belle Isle, at Richmond, Va." The piece of poetry alluded to by Mr. Morris is called "The Old Union Wagon," and were it not so lengthy, I would try and have it inserted in these columns, but we are always too much crowded for space to permit it. As a boy, Mr. Morris had committed the poetry to memory, and was often called upon at soldier gatherings and other meetings to recite it for the pleasure of those present back in the troublous days of the war.

The approaching 4th of July reminds me that as an anniversary celebration of the day that the United States passed its Declaration of Independence, and after a seven years' war won and secured all that was embodied in the declaration, so unanimously and bravely passed by the representatives present in the Colonial Congress for it must be remembered that every member of that body was thrusting his neck into a halter by that vote, if afterwards captured, the day is not so generally observed as it was previous to the "War for the Union." Before the Civil War, the 4th of July was the great event of the year in almost every region comprising the American Union. Great celebrations--that is, celebrations on a large scale--were held at almost every county-seat, at least in all the populous counties; and in some of those they were also held at many of the smaller villages as well. The program consisted of songs and a principal speech in the forenoon, for which the most popular and best speaker to be obtained was usually selected; and in many places throughout the Union these speeches were often so important, and delivered by such prominent men, that even in those days the herculean task of having them printed in full in one or more of the newspapers of the place where such speeches were delivered was often done, and many of them were preserved even to this day. It was only a few years since I came across an old relic of this character. It was printed the week following July 4th, 1840, in a newspaper called "The Van Burenite," a campaign paper then published at Tiffin, Ohio, from early in the year until the election took place in the autumn. It was too small a sheet to publish the principal speeches, but it did give a very fair report of the celebration of July 4th in that year.

Here in Warsaw the people can look back to quite a number of very creditable celebrations, antedating the war. The first one that I remember distinctly by being present after my folks had emigrated to this county was held on the identical lots on which are located the residences belonging to the late Mrs. S. B. Clarke, that of the editor of this paper, and a portion of what has been known for many years as "The Lightfoot Place." Immediately opposite the Clark corner and on the west side of Detroit street was the "three-story tavern," of which Ben Van Camp was at that time the proprietor. The three lots mentioned were at that time densely set in an oak undergrowth and to prepare for the long line of dinner tables a portion of sufficient width was cut close to the ground and an improvised dinner table was set up along this aisle through the undergrowth, and all of it placed under a bower covered with the brush that had been cut down. The price of the dinner, I remember, was $1 per couple, and it was almost safe to say that every girl in the county who was 16 years old and over was present with her beau at that great dinner; for next to taking his fair dulcinae to a circus, the average Hoosier beau of that period delighted in making a show on horseback at a 4th of July celebration! The dinner was prepared at the "tavern" and carried to the tables in huge baskets, and as I remember it, it was a fine "layout" for that early day. By the way, the old tavern is now the home of Dr. Webber and owned by Charles F. Morris, of Marion. It was then a three-story building with four dormer windows in the roof, and was so tall for its dimensions on the ground that it became known as the "Shot-Tower," and went by that name until the late A. T. S. Kist "reduced it to the ranks" by taking off the upper story.

The next celebration on a large scale that I remember of was held in the public square surrounding the court house. The tables were prepared in much the same way, only that in this instance the brush to cover it had to be brought from a distance. The literary program was held in the audience-room of the old court house, and while I cannot remember for certain who made the principal oration, I do call to mind that the late Col. C. W. Chapman presided as toast-master, and that there were a number of racy hits made both in the toasts as well as in the responses. The late Ferdinand Pelton, who built the hotel on the ground now occupied by the White House in Warsaw had the contract to furnish the dinner. He was a violent, quick-tempered man, and an incident occurred that became the standing joke of the town for a month or more after the Fourth. The late George R. Thralls was then engaged in the drug trade, as he was for nearly all the time that he lived in Warsaw, and he was a very early pioneer, got into an altercation with Pelton on that day about his treatment of a younger son at the dinner table.

Thralls was a stickler for his family and all other friends for that matter, and the altercation led to wordy war with violent Pelton--a man who had a wide reputation for the tenacity of grip of his hands. After the formal difficulty was over, the "wags" of the town circulated the report that Pelton had been discovered in the early evening of the day, after the crowd of the 4th had dispersed, roughening his hands preparatory to coming around to Thralls' place and choking him; that in fact, he was carrying about with him a shot-bag filled with sand in which to thrust his hands occasionally. This was told to Thralls--who was anything else but a brawler--and it was suggested to "Old Watch," as he was generally called--that he had better take some sweet-oil and grease his neck, shoulders and arms! This, Rig Gordon, Bill Baker and Lige Tusing--jesters of that day--declared would counteract Pelton's fierce grip and would make his hands slip, thus modifying all the advantage Pelton exerted in his wonderful strength he possessed in grip! Whether Thralls really did grease himself, or Pelton carry about with him a shot-bag of sand, I cannot say but the story was firmly believed by all those not in the secret and answered as well as though it had been built of stern hard facts for the great body of people! There are but few left who will remember the incident, but I am sure that Tom Woods, Bram and Aust Funk will do so.

Warsaw Daily Times June 28, 1902

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